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When opportunity knocks, answer the door

| Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

Several years ago, during a period of historic economic turbulence, shale development knocked on our door.

For many of the region's 17 building trades unions — all represented by the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania — shale has presented an opportunity for good jobs that pay family-supporting wages. And for the commonwealth's economy — especially the small businesses still struggling to recover from the Great Recession — locally produced natural resources have been a driving force behind our region's growth.

But shale development's economic benefits and gains are now uncertain should energy taxes be increased to the point where, according to the Independent Fiscal Office, Pennsylvania would become the “highest taxed state.”

In Washington County, shale development and its diverse supply chain are driving the county's rapid growth. A recent Washington & Jefferson College study concluded that the shale industry had a $2.4 billion economic impact on Washington County between 2011 and 2013, representing 15 to 20 percent of its total economic output and supporting more than 10,000 jobs.

These shale jobs translate to growth for the region's small businesses and expand opportunities for thousands of skilled laborers to find stable, good-paying careers. According to a University of Illinois study released in late 2014, shale has helped create 45,000 new building trade jobs across Appalachia.

And as more infrastructure projects get underway, the future for our region remains bright. For example, Sunoco Logistics' $4 billion Mariner East II pipeline, stretching from Washington County to Delaware County's Marcus Hook petrochemical facility, will help create an estimated 30,000 construction jobs. Additionally, the proposed Beaver County petrochemical plant may provide thousands of construction opportunities for our union building trades workers, including steamfitters, electricians, carpenters and operating engineers. That means jobs right now and a brighter future for the next generation of skilled laborers as well as an opportunity to revitalize the region's manufacturing base.

Of course, all families are realizing shale's benefits through lower-cost energy and community improvements funded by natural gas impact taxes. Since 2012, our state's impact tax has generated more than $850 million for all 67 counties ­— including $58 million for Washington County and its municipal governments.

While shale has delivered enormous opportunity for our region, efforts to pass significantly higher energy taxes could threaten this progress. And with global oil and natural gas prices showing little to no sign of recovery — which has already led to investment and job cuts — there couldn't be a worse time to make Pennsylvania less competitive with higher energy taxes.

We appreciate the challenging task our state leaders face in finalizing a budget. But higher energy taxes will harm small businesses and building trades workers as well as consumers. Harrisburg must focus on policies that encourage infrastructure development using local labor, small business growth and manufacturing — not significantly higher energy taxes that could slam the door on shale's clear benefits.

Jason Fincke is executive director of the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania (buildersguild.org) and Jeff Kotula is president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce (washcochamber.com).

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